GHB (and GBL)


Synthesis of the chemical GHB was first reported in 1874. GHB was re-investigated in France more than 50 years ago as a possible anaesthetic and introduced into medicine between 1960-63 when it was discovered as a naturally occurring chemical in the human brain and scientists noted its effect on the neurotransmitter GABA. Throughout much of the 1960s it was held likely to have considerable anaesthetic properties, but was abandoned by doctors following discoveries of its limited clinical analgesic effects and its very short duration of action. In the 1970s, GHB was recommended for the treatment of narcolepsy/cataplexy, though it was again found to be flawed, primarily due to its euphoric side effects.

During the 1980s it was marketed as a fat burner and muscle developer and interest was stirred in the body-building/steroid using community to enhance the body’s production of growth hormone. It became adopted by ‘rave’ culture during the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly because of its euphoric and aphrodisiac properties. It is occasionally used in the treatment of alcoholism. Its effects have been noted in clubs with incidents reported of people losing consciousness and the use of the drug as a ‘spiking’ agent in sexual assaults. These have contributed to wariness of the drug, and it has waned in popularity across the last 10 years.  It was made a class C drug in June 2003.

GBL and 1,4-BD are chemicals that have widespread legitimate uses (for example, in nail polish, paints and as industrial solvents) but are also misused. They are pro-drugs of the Class C drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), meaning that when either substance is ingested it is rapidly converted to GHB. The effects and risks associated with their misuse are unconsciousness, a risk of death by intoxication and a dependence syndrome if used regularly. The risks are increased if combined with alcohol or other depressant substances. GBL and 1,4-BD have therefore been controlled as Class C drugs.